$1.99 until 3/31/17
Publisher Tracy Edingfield
$1.99 until 3/31/17
Defying genre labels, this is a political satire of the heavy responsibilities shouldered by lawyers, but it's also the tale of newbie associate, Cooper Bach, recovering from devastating loss. As she emerges from her crucible, Coop answers the increasing demands of her clients and law partners.
If there's anything to love in their new associate, her bosses will snuff it out, but neither counted on others to stunt Cooper's transformation into a hired gun. A grumpy judge, a drug-addicted artist, and a sexy bartender raise objections to Lucifer's plan. Their message is simple: You can't have her, Psycho & Satan.
Lucifer & Mrs. Cuttlebum
On my first day as a brand, spanking new lawyer, I dressed in my finest suit, which I picked up for half-price at a big box store. My smooth hair caught in a silver clasp my dad had given me for graduating college. Black ballet slippers completed the outfit.
With butterflies in my stomach, I entered Whilts & Hatdiff, P.A.
The lobby held two brown, respectable settees, a Bombay side table with cabriolet legs, and the obligatory office fern, its brown ends drooping as if it had already lost hope. Framed reproductions of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were displayed in expensive gilded frames, ensuring nobody would read them. A tattered oriental rug lay prostrate on the floor, abandoning ambitions of grandeur. The atmosphere smelled stale. That odor, malevolent for unclear reasons, would linger—somehow I knew that.
“Hi! Cooper, isn’t it?” Her white teeth gleamed against her ebony skin, causing me to marvel at the stark contrast.
I approached the rounded, stainless steel console and nodded to the African-American receptionist who sat behind it. She was in her thirties, wearing sleek hair with tendrils plastered into curlicues onto the sides of her cheeks. Her dress was colorful and every bit of “off the rack” as mine.
My chest tightened. I didn’t want to cultivate friendships or ties. I’d learned my lessons the hard way; once bitten, twice shy—but three times? I’d be an idiot. Sticking out my hand, I shook hers, keeping my voice cool and distant.
Distance was important.
“Cooper Bach,” I said.
The wattage of her smile dimmed, but she said, “Melinda Jackson. Tanny and Sam aren’t here yet, so go on to your office. You’re to go to court this morning on an Order in Aid. I’ll bring you Cuttlebum’s file.”
I doddered, not having a clue where my office was. “Sure.”
Her head jerked up and she flashed a pink palm down the corridor. “First door on the left.”
An aisle ran down the center of the rectangular building with smaller offices flanking its sides. Cracker box design, nothing architecturally interesting about the building. The décor wasn’t interesting; rather than impress, it chose to baffle the occupants. An art deco console table detracted from the framed historical documents, but boasted a thin stack of outdated magazines. A chunky wooden mirror hung above the art deco table. Walking down the corridor, I came to another secretary’s desk. It’s a wobbly little thing. Upon closer inspection, one leg is propped with a can of tuna.
“Hello, Charlie,” I muttered.
Behind the desk, a photocopier, scanner, and printer hum along, noisy as they devoured electricity. Cables hung from the drop-down ceiling tiles, resembling dead, plucked geese in a Chinese food market.
There’s that smell again.
I open the door—“Shit. Shit on a Ritz cracker.” My office was gray, gloom and despair in a monochromatic range. Gray walls, carpet, and desk.
“Geezus, it was more welcoming in the morgue.”
Recalling my recent visit with Gloria, my fingertips tingled, as if they once again touched her cold body. The sound of blood dripping onto the floor echoed in my ears; I smelled stainless steel, lavender perfume, and white wine. That’s the scent of Death, all right. Separate smells which don’t mingle together.
“Focus.” With a shaky breath, I plunked into my chair, the seat cushion so rigid, it jarred my back. I tried to adjust the seat’s height, but the lever didn’t work.
It didn’t take long to inventory my office. One client chair, one desk, this shitty chair. My office was void of accoutrements, garbed in a sullen veil of resentment. “Well, fucking la-de-dah fantastic.”
Melinda leaned against the door jamb, holding an inch-thick folder in one hand and a vase of bright Gerber daisies in the other. She blinked several times, her face a careful study in blankness.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” What could I say? That I didn’t mean to accurately describe this shithole of an office? That I hadn’t meant to speak out loud? That it had become a habit of mine lately?
She offered me the vase of flowers. “These are for you. I meant to have them on your desk before you got here, but I didn’t make it. Sorry.”
“Never mind.” Melinda set the vase on my desk.
“Thanks. Much better than peace lilies.”
“You mentioned a Cuddleson case?”
“Cuttlebum,” Melinda corrected. With a frown, she handed me a folder.
“Docket’s at nine o’clock?”
“Yes.” She opened the file, showed me a questionnaire then explained Mrs. Cuttlebum should fill it out. “We have a judgment for $1,428 against her. Have her tell you where she banks, what money she has, furs, jewelry—anything we can attach and apply to the judgment. Bring the questionnaire back. I’ll do the rest—you just sign the garnishment order.”
I closed the folder. “Okay, that sounds easy enough.”
Between Melinda’s finely-plucked brows, a fret formed.
Hearing the irritation in my voice, Melinda shook her head, said, “Nothing.”
“I’m sorry.” To my embarrassment, that lame apology of mine hung in the stale air. The receptionist had already left.
Melinda drove me to the courthouse, pulling near the concrete steps then sent me off with a cheery salute, showing she wasn’t the kind of person to harbor a grudge.
Like some skittering virgin, I sat in the peanut gallery waiting for Court. Sitting on the interior side of the pony wall, or bar, I took pride in knowing I’d earned the right to cross it. For seven years I sacrificed, living off generic brand foods while racking up staggering loan amounts. I sweated through three days of cumulative testing for the grueling finish. Now I’d been launched into the strata of the elite, well-educated, and debt-ridden.
Nine suits milled about the pit. All men. No women. Eight of the nine suits were white, middle-aged men with shiny pates. The ninth man was also white, but he was trim, attractive, and youngish. An Italian leather belt cinched his slim waist. Either he was an avid runner or did cocaine. Blithely, I skipped over the threshold of Dante’s Inferno, catapulting myself into hell.
As I sat, watching the Suits and running my hands over the hem of my skirt, I sensed their curiosity, but nobody said ‘hello.’ They’d glance in my direction, but never spoke.
“All rise!” The bailiff called.
Scurrying sounds filled the courtroom. Everyone stood for His Honor. Judge Powers and his ego entered from the side door nearly simultaneously. The corpulent judge took the bench and adjusted his five hundred dollar designer eyeglasses. He took his time settling into his leather chair then adjusted some pens, papers, and Post-It notes on his desktop.
The writing instruments were placed in right angles to the paper products. Those anal retentive tendencies would have delighted Dr. Freud. Here sat a veritable treasure trove of repression.
Judge Powers leaned back, his robe draping his rotund body. He shook his sleeves, embellished with velvet Order of the Coif stripes, meant to impress. It did. He cast his supercilious gaze upon his fiefdom then nodded to the bailiff, finally prepared to pass judgment on lesser mortals.
Pulsating waves of boredom flooded the courtroom as Judge Powers read the case names from the docket. There were other things he’d rather do. I knew he felt disdain for this array of unwashed citizenry. Did any of them appreciate what a pain in the ass they were? As he called off the docket, his lips puckered in disapproval. Sometimes, he’d lowered his glasses to stab a litigant with an angry stare. Once, he harrumphed then scribbled a note and slapped the Post-It into the official court file. A lawyer involved in that case, one of the nine, shuddered.
I didn’t blame him.
He barked, “Law Firm of Whilts and Hatdiff versus James Cuttlebum and Eileen Cuttlebum.”
I rose, praying the starch in my knees would hold me upright. Craning my neck, I looked for the defendants, Jimmy and Eileen Cuttlebum. Clutching the legal file close to my bosom, the feel of the manila folder calmed me. I breathed in and exhaled, hoping I wouldn’t irritate Judge Powers.
Neatly printed at the top of the folder was the defendants’ surname, then first name, followed by the case number and the words, ‘Debt Collection.’ I opened the file, searching for the Postal Service’s green card, which showed Return of Service.
From the corner of my eye, I caught a small, labored movement. An old woman rose from the pew, her bones creaking in protest. Mrs. Cuttlebum’s joints crackled like cereal drowned in milk. She straightened her hunched shoulders, but they sagged in the next heartbeat. Her cheeks were hollowed, her eye sockets sunken. Atop her steel-colored curls perched a knitted toilet paper cozy. I recognized it from having seen one as a child in a church bazaar. The lenses in her glasses were thick and so heavy they left red indentations where the bridge rested on her nose. Scores of bruises ranging from purple to lime trailed her arms. Her legs were clad in heavy nylon stockings, molecularly similar to the structure of some petroleum by-product.
“Here.” Her frail, uneven voice broke the stunned silence of the courtroom as her liver-spotted hands clutched a brown, worn satchel.
“Double Doodoo Dog Shit.” I muttered the longtime phrase my sister and I bantered around, having been struck with the epiphany that my employers had smoked me.
Collectively, the nine lawyers stared at me as if I were a monster. Quickly, they glanced away, as if their retinas stung from the sight of my gorgonesque existence. If I ever thought I’d be welcome amongst this group, I could forget those delusions.
“Geezus, does Tanny want me to mug her?” My hand trembled as I wiped lines of tension from my face.
Law school didn’t prepare me for this.
Judge Powers’ gaze stabbed me, piercing my shroud of unreality. He lowered his glasses a fraction, just enough to convey his disdain. “And you are?”
“Cooper Bach. New associate with Whilts & Hatdiff.”
That announcement injected another megavolt into the already-electrified atmosphere of the courtroom. Tension spun out as tut, tuts murmured and despairing heads shook. The Judge wrinkled his nose, the only part of his fleshy face which moved, like he’d discovered a turd wrapped in a silk ribbon on his clearly compensating-for-something-desk.
The khaki-covered bailiff offered a small cough, a tiny island of neutrality.
With a heavy sigh of disgust directed toward me, the judge asked the defendant, “Are you ready for the examination, Mrs. Cuttlebum?”
“Could… could I have a minute, please, Your Honor?” I asked, raising my hand, as if I were still some geeky 1-L.
Judge Powers pressed his double chins against his throat. A pale mound of flesh between lip and chest quivered with gelatinous movements, but he stated the matter would be placed on second call then continued reading the remainder of the docket.
“Ma’am, can you follow me, please? Let’s find somewhere a little more private,” I invited the old woman.
I led her from the high-ceiling courtroom down a dim hallway, peeking into doors along the way. We came to a suitable room for a conference. I squeezed my slim frame past a stack of cardboard boxes and motioned for Mrs. Cuttlebum to take the chair. Carefully, I set the collections file on the boxes, using it as a temporary desk.
“Jimmy paid Mrs. Whilts. He told me he did. I have receipts.” She opened her satchel with gnarled hands and scooped some slips of paper, offering them to me with her claw-like fingers.
“What’s that you say?” She touched the corner of her ear, palm outward.
Her aged voice vibrated. “Who’s Jimmy? Why, he’s my grandson. Got the divorce when his wife left him with the little one, Brandon.”
“Oh.” I scratched my head, hoping to find a way to handle this. I got nothing. Gloria must have taken Jesus out for lunch because no heavenly aid rained down like manna, either.
I studied Mrs. Cuttlebum’s receipts; they were for money orders. Some paid the gas bill, some the water or trash. Four receipts for $75 had no name on the stub, but those payments didn’t match the firm’s ledger of accounts receivables, so I couldn’t credit them.
“Were these payments made to Whilts & Hatdiff?” I asked, trying to justify giving her the benefit, nevertheless.
I took a deep breath then said louder, “WERE THESE PAID TO TANNY WHILTS?”
“What?” She looked at the receipts in my hand, as if she were surprised to see them.
“WERE THESE PAID TO MRS. WHILTS?”
“I don’t know.” She dabbed a tissue against her upper lip. Her liver-spotted hands shook, but the trembling was due to agedness, not nerves.
“WHERE IS JIMMY?”
For the first time, I looked into her eyes. Her watery, clouded-by-cataract eyes.
“Dead,” she said. “Died last June. Motorcycle crash.”
She fished through the papers, extracted a crinkled newspaper clipping.
Her grandson Jimmy’s obituary.
Words of condolences half-formed, but I couldn’t get them past my lips. Swallowing freed the constriction in my throat, but it took me three gulps before I could mumble I was sorry for her loss. I needed to end this and leave. Gathering the receipts, I returned them to her satchel and handed it to the old woman. “WE’RE DONE.”
She rested her bony, freckled hand on top of mine and murmured, “Jimmy was a good boy, said he paid Mrs. Whilts.”
“I’m sure, Mrs. Cuttlebum,” I said, hating myself for getting sucked into this uncomfortable situation.
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TRACY EDINGFIELD graduated from the University of Kansas with a Degree of Distinction then later matriculated from KU with her Juris Doctorate Degree. Throughout her lengthy legal career, Tracy has been a public defender, prosecutor, judge, litigator, and mediator. During her stint as public defender, she obtained an incredible 76% acquittal rating. She specialized in domestic cases for most of her career before retiring. TRACY EDINGFIELD lives near Wichita, Kansas with her husband and two children.